Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said some very interesting and revealing things in her appearance at the Saban Center’s gala dinner on November 30. They are, however, being quoted out of context. Let’s look at what she actually said in some detail for a sense of how the Obama administration’s highest-ranking foreign policy official and a likely future presidential candidate thinks about this issue.
Let me note also that the statement was made at an institution that might be considered friendly to Israel and thus Clinton might have skewed her remarks to be more fair to that country than she would do in a regular international forum.
In answering a question, Clinton went into some detail about the problems facing a two-state solution and peace. Remember she is speaking extemporaneously.
First, the Israeli perception:
I think Israelis have good grounds to be suspicious. And I would never be one who tries to rewrite or dismiss history. The Palestinians could have had a state as old as I am if they had made the right decision in 1947. They could have had a state if they had worked with my husband and then-Prime Minister Barak at Camp David. They could have had a state if they’d worked with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni.
Here Clinton is pointing out that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected getting a state and that’s why they didn’t have one years ago. I cannot imagine Obama saying this kind of thing.
Now, would it have been a perfectly acceptable outcome for every Israeli and every Palestinian? No. No compromise ever is. But there were moments of opportunity. And I will also say this. When Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze I flew to Jerusalem. We’d been working on this. George Mitchell had been taking the lead on it. And when Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze, it wasn’t perfect. It didn’t cover East Jerusalem, but it covered much of the contested area in the West Bank.
There’s something important in this passage that no one has noticed. For the first time ever, Clinton publicly and explicitly acknowledged that the freeze did not cover East Jerusalem. Why, then, did Vice President Joe Biden throw a temper tantrum when an Israeli zoning board cleared some future construction there? At the time, the U.S. government repeatedly implied that Israel violated the agreement, which it didn’t. Now Clinton admits that.
Incidentally, the Obama administration did nothing when the Palestinian Authority refused to negotiate seriously despite the freeze on construction.
Clinton continued, and this is also revealing:
And I stood on a stage with him at 11 o’clock – Israelis always meet late at night, I don’t understand it – (laughter) – but 11 o’clock at night, midnight, and I said it was unprecedented for any Israeli prime minister to have done that. I got so criticized. I got criticized from the right, the left, the center, Israeli, Jewish, Arab, Christian, you name it. Everybody criticized me. But the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze. And he was good to his word. And we couldn’t get the Palestinians into the conversation until the tenth month.
I cannot remember anyone criticizing her for this statement. It was a small enough reward to Netanyahu for a major domestic political risk and a concession which in the end brought no progress for peace and no gratitude from the White House. But what Clinton says now does reflect the Western view that if you bash Israel it has no cost and if you praise Israel it is going to hurt you. I wonder if this is also a hint that Obama wasn’t happy with her praise for Netanyahu.